No. 10 Notre Dame women find balance in Senior Night dismissal of Georgia Tech

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — No matter how often Notre Dame subbed in, no matter how many the Irish subbed in, even no matter the unplanned change in sequence to who subbed in, it always felt like the right combination as the Irish showed their balance and flexed their emerging depth during a 76-53 win over Georgia Tech in Thursday’s Senior Night women’s basketball regular-season home finale at Purcell Pavilion.

Before the game, ND saluted its lone two players scheduled to depart following the season in injured Dara Mabrey and the lately recovering Lauren Ebo.

Then during the game, the Irish flashed how bright the present and future each appear to be.

Five players — Olivia Miles with 13, Sonia Citron 12, Kylee Watson 12, Maddy Westbeld 11 and KK Bransford 10 — each scored in double digits as No. 10 Notre Dame (23-4, 14-3) remained tied atop the Atlantic Coast Conference with No. 11 Duke (24-4, 14-3).

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The Irish will try to wrap up at least a share of the ACC regular-season crown when they close Sunday at Louisville (21-9, 12-5) in a rematch of ND’s 78-76 overtime win just 10 days earlier.

The Blue Devils, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Irish for purposes of league tourney seeding, finish by hosting No. 22 North Carolina (19-9, 10-7) on Sunday.

No. 9 Virginia Tech (23-4, 13-4), which nipped the Tar Heels 61-59 on Thursday, remains alive for a piece of the conference crown as well, though the Irish hold the seeding tiebreaker over the Hokies.

ND sent the Yellow Jackets (13-15, 4-13) to their fifth loss in six games Thursday.

Feb 23, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets guard Kara Dunn (25) drives to the basket as Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Maddy Westbeld (21) defends in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

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► Besides the five in double digits, the Irish got another combined 20 points from Ebo, Nat Marshall and Cass Prosper, the early enrollee who delivered an early spark.

Additionally, Jenna Brown didn’t score, but was typically the floor general over the eight minutes she was in with two assists against no turnovers.

“It shows their unselfishness with each other, and I love that style of play,” ND coach Niele Ivey said of how the Irish maintained their effectiveness at both ends while utilizing an array of lineups and multiple defensive looks. “It shows the balance we have. You can’t lock in on one person on our team and I think that makes us dangerous. I love seeing five, six people in double figures.”

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Ivey’s initial subbing didn’t follow the usual script, as Prosper, who entered just 2:26 into the game, and Marshall, who entered 4:49 in, each saw the court before Bransford, who entered 6:13 in.

Usually, Bransford or Ebo — whichever doesn’t start — is first off the bench, but Bransford was momentarily unavailable, per Ivey, due to needing an ankle retaped.

The Irish were already down 8-0 when Ivey didn’t hesitate to insert Prosper after a timeout. It worked.

“She came in and just really changed the game with her defense,” Ivey said. “She got some deflections and (had) some incredible defensive activity.”

S isFeb 23, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Niele Ivey watches in the second half against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

ND scored the next eight points to knot the game, then went ahead to stay at 14-12 with 1:35 remaining in the first quarter before steadily pulling away in the second half.

Prosper scored six points, grabbed four rebounds, made two steals and blocked a shot in 24 minutes.

Miles added eight rebounds, four assists and three steals to her 13 points.

Sonia Citron added four assists and two steals to her 12.

Westbeld added five rebounds, five assists and three steals to her 11.

The Irish committed just two turnovers in the first half and nine for the game, marking their lowest total in their last 21 contests.

Their plus-seven in takeaways-giveaways was their best in 10 outings, and the 17 assists against the nine turnovers their best ratio in 18 games.

Feb 23, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Olivia Miles (5) passes to forward Kylee Watson (22) in the first half against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

► Watson, who played two seasons at Oregon before transferring to ND, continued her recent surge in production with her first career double-double, adding a career-high 10 rebounds to her 12 points.

“Mainly just focusing on my mental game,” said Watson, who began her Irish career reasonably well, then went through a prolonged slump before emerging over the last four games as a prime offensive target.

“Getting more shots up,” Watson said of her practice routine, “and a lot of just working on being better, self-talk and stuff like that, and being surrounded by the girls that I’m so close with. They really help me, too. Having them believe in me, I’m surrounded by so many great people, it’s been easy for me.”

Watson, whose slick spin moves in the post were an Irish highlight Thursday, is averaging 13.3 points and 6.8 boards over her last four games to go with 20-of-31 shooting from the field and 13-of-20 at the line.

Over her previous dozen games, she had averaged 4.0 points and 3.8 boards to accompany 20-of-37 from the field and 9-of-21 at the line.

Feb 23, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish center Lauren Ebo (33) fights for position against Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets center Nerea Hermosa (20) in the second half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

► Mabrey, in her third season at ND, and fellow grad student Ebo, in her first, received warm applause during pregame ceremonies from a crowd listed at 5,297.

“I always love being a part of these types of moments, honoring two gifted young women who have done so much for me and so much for the program,” Ivey said.

Mabrey’s fifth and final college season was cut short when she suffered knee and lower leg injuries on Jan. 22 against Virginia. To that point, she had started every one of her teams’ 135 games between her time at Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.

Ebo’s first season with the Irish follows two years each at Penn State and Texas.

Ebo scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds against the Jackets across 14 minutes, her most action in her three games back since being sidelined for five contests with a lower body injury.

Up next

Sunday’s rematch at Louisville is set for noon on ESPN.

No. 10 Notre Dame 76, Georgia Tech 53

GEORGIA TECH (13-15): Blackshear 3-8 0-0 6, Wone Aranaz 3-6 0-0 6, Dunn 4-7 0-0 9, Morgan 2-7 0-2 4, Swartz 4-15 1-2 10, Hermosa 1-1 0-0 2, Boswell 0-0 0-0 0, Jackson 3-6 0-0 8, Carter 3-8 0-0 8, Harrison 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 23-58 1-4 53

NOTRE DAME (23-4): Ebo 3-9 2-2 8, Watson 5-9 2-3 12, Westbeld 4-9 2-2 11, Citron 5-9 0-1 12, Miles 5-15 3-4 13, Bransford 5-7 0-0 10, Brown 0-2 0-0 0, Prosper 2-6 1-1 6, Cernugel 0-1 0-0 0, Marshall 2-3 0-0 4, Totals 31-70 10-13 76

Georgia Tech1215121453
Notre Dame1716222176

3-Point Goals—Georgia Tech 6-24 (Dunn 1-2, Morgan 0-3, Swartz 1-10, Jackson 2-4, Carter 2-5), Notre Dame 4-13 (Westbeld 1-3, Citron 2-4, Miles 0-1, Brown 0-1, Prosper 1-3, Cernugel 0-1). Assists_Georgia Tech 12 (Morgan 4), Notre Dame 17 (Westbeld 5). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Georgia Tech 33 (Wone Aranaz 9), Notre Dame 45 (Watson 10). Total Fouls—Georgia Tech 14, Notre Dame 10. Technical Fouls—None. A—5,297.